U.S. Marine Accused of Kidnapping Continues to Keep Afghan Orphan

by Ethan Kim
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Afghan child abduction

When the Afghan woman heard that her family’s case had reached the White House, she rushed to her friend’s home in anticipation that her child, allegedly taken by a U.S. Marine over a year prior, would be returned. The excitement caused her to forget her shoes.

“We were hopeful that she would be back with us within a week,” she informed The Big Big News.

However, despite two months passing since an AP report highlighted the ongoing legal dispute involving the child, creating a stir at top governmental levels from the U.S. to Afghanistan, the child remains under the care of U.S. Marine Corps Major Joshua Mast and his family. The Masts maintain they legally adopted the child, branding the Afghan couple’s allegations as “baseless” and “unfounded.”

In response to the AP’s October report, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre voiced concern over the child’s welfare. The U.S. Justice Department intervened last month, arguing that the child’s adoption by Mast should never have been approved. They insisted that Mast’s actions contradicted U.S. foreign policy decision to reunite the orphan with her Afghan family. They attempted to move the case from a rural Virginia court to federal court but were denied by Presiding Circuit Court Judge Richard E. Moore. Federal investigations are underway.

Court-appointed attorney Samantha Freed, tasked with ensuring the child’s best interests, said, “We just want a resolution for this child to avoid further uncertainty in her life. It’s crucial that we get this right now because there won’t be another chance.”

The child, who is now 3 1/2 years old, was first encountered by Mast during his temporary assignment in Afghanistan in late 2019. The infant had survived a Special Operations raid that had claimed the lives of her family. Despite the Afghan government and the International Committee of the Red Cross arranging reunification with her relatives, Mast was determined to bring her to the U.S., circumventing certain legal safeguards for international adoptions in a Virginia court using his military status and political connections.

The child was taken from the Afghan couple after their arrival at the Fort Pickett Virginia Army National Guard base during the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. They have not seen her since and are legally fighting for her return.

Mast argues in court that he acted “admirably” in bringing the child to the U.S. and providing her with a loving home and necessary medical care. He portrays the adoption as an act of Christian faith, whereas the child’s Afghan family is Muslim.

The toddler’s fate is to be decided in a secret court case in rural Virginia, where Mast’s custody was previously granted. The federal government has labeled this custody order as “illegal,” “improper,” and “gravely flawed and incorrect” as it relied on Afghanistan waiving jurisdiction over the child, which never occurred.

Mast continues to cast doubt on the Afghan couple’s relation to the child in court, describing her as a “war orphan” and a “stateless minor.”

The ongoing legal tussle centers on whether the Afghan family, who raised the child for 18 months, has any rights under Virginia law to contest the adoption. Judge Moore ruled in favor of the Afghan family’s legal standing in November; an appeal from the Masts is under review.

The Afghan relatives, now in Texas, believe the U.S. government should do more to assist them given the involvement of several federal agencies in the issue.

“They’re not performing their duty appropriately,” said the Afghan woman. “And we are the ones suffering in the process.”

Despite various appeals to several agencies at Fort Pickett for help, they were only able to get assistance after contacting Martha Jenkins, a voluntary attorney at the base.

Marine Corps spokesperson stated that they are fully cooperating with federal investigations, including one focused on the alleged unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material. In court-submitted emails, Mast referred to reading classified documents about the raid that killed the girl’s family.

Globally, the Taliban has pledged to pursue the issue with American authorities to ensure the child’s return to her relatives.

The Afghan couple currently anticipates their child’s return, with a room ready in their new two-bedroom apartment. They pass their nights looking through photos of the time they spent raising her, hoping for her return.

This report includes contributions from AP researcher Rhonda Shafner.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Afghan child abduction

Who is the main subject in this legal dispute?

The main subject in this legal dispute is a 3 1/2 year-old Afghan orphan girl who allegedly was taken by U.S. Marine Corps Major Joshua Mast during his assignment in Afghanistan. The girl’s Afghan relatives claim that Mast illegally abducted her, while Mast asserts that he legally adopted the child.

What did the U.S. Justice Department argue about the adoption?

The U.S. Justice Department intervened in the legal dispute arguing that Major Joshua Mast’s adoption of the Afghan orphan girl should not have been approved. The department states that Mast’s action contradicts a U.S. foreign policy decision aimed at reuniting the girl with her Afghan family.

Who has custody of the child right now?

As of the latest update, the child is in the custody of U.S. Marine Corps Major Joshua Mast and his family. The case is ongoing and the child’s future will be determined through legal proceedings.

How is the child’s Afghan family trying to reclaim her?

The Afghan family, after arriving in the U.S. and losing the child to Mast, is legally battling to get her back. They are being represented by Elizabeth Vaughan, who is providing her services free of charge.

What stance has the U.S. government taken in this case?

The U.S. government, represented by the Justice Department, has intervened in the case, arguing against the legality of the adoption. They maintain that the adoption directly conflicted with U.S. foreign policy to reunite the orphan with her Afghan family. The federal government has also described the custody order granted to Mast as “unlawful,” “improper,” and “deeply flawed and incorrect”.

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